The Harvard Dictionary of Music

By Szydlowski, Joseph | Notes, March 2005 | Go to article overview

The Harvard Dictionary of Music


Szydlowski, Joseph, Notes


The Harvard Dictionary of Music. 4th ed. By Don Michael Randel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. [xxvii, 978 p. ISBN 0-674-01163-5. $39.95], Music examples, illustrations.

It is likely that most subscribers to Notes have by now purchased a copy of the Harvard Dictionary for themselves or their institution predicated on the longevity of the work and its deserved good reputation. The current edition, under the direction of Don Michael Randel, generally delivers what has come to be expected, and although there have been "numerous chances, including outright additions and deletions" (Preface), I have not found any significant gaps in coverage. The dictionary, for its thoroughness, remains remarkably concise.

I have not, and never will, read this work from cover to cover, but in my perusal I have checked on some fairly obscure terms from Renaissance music theory (e.g., "dux, comes"), dance forms ("Folia"), "course" (from lute, theorbo and other plucked stringed instruments), and whatever else occurred to me and found nothing lacking. I also checked terms in an aleatoric fashion from previous editions and found nothing missing in the new one. At 978 pages as compared to the previous edition's 942, I am relieved to find that there was apparently no need to cut significantly due to new additions, which I will discuss later. I suppose a specialist, and by that I don't mean a music specialist but someone with expertise in, for example, Japanese music or Baroque organ literature, might find the work wanting, but people of that stripe will likely have knowledge of more specialized sources for their needs. This remains a very good general dictionary of music, and at a price of about $40.00, it is an accessible tool for the student, small library, concert attendee, or professional musician.

As has been the policy since the first edition of 1944, the dictionary continues to exclude biography, so one can find an entry for "Schenker analysis" (p. 759), but not an entry for Heinrich Schenker, except in the context of the former definition.

In his preface to the Harvard Brief Dictionary in 1960, Willi Apel alluded to evolving developments in music, new ideas and terminology becoming established, followed by the need to address them (Willi Apel and Ralph T. Daniel, Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966], pp. v-vi). I would add that continuing scholarship requires a periodic reevaluation of accepted definitions. This fourth edition is the second edited by Don Randal, the first entitled The New Harvard Dictionary of Music published in 1986. As Bruce R. Schueneman (Texas A&M University Library) points out in his review of the current edition for Library Journal, the article on leitmotif "seems to be a verbatim holdover from 1986" (Library Journal 129, no. 2 [1 February 2004]: 77). He goes on to point out that the origin of the term as stated in the Harvard Dictionary disagrees with that found in Grove Music Online (Web site accessed 24 November 2004). I leave the debate as to the origins of the term to Charlotte Greenspan, the author of the Harvard Dictionary article, and other specialists in German opera. I point out the criticism because it illustrates the subjectivity of musical terms and practices, and I would venture to say that, at least in some respects, it is likely that both sources are correct. Although it is useful-almost necessary-to have some type of scaffolding for historical purposes, it is obviously absurd to claim that the baroque period began immediately after the twelfth stroke of midnight, New Year's Day 1601. It is more often the case for a term such as leitmotif that a musical genre or practice evolves from consensus, conversation (perhaps overheard), or a general Zeitgeist, and often only gains currency or general acceptance much later. So, is this discrepancy between two highly regarded reference works a flaw, an oversight, or is it the result of the nature of the subject matter? …

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